Homenetmen is a worldwide non-profit Armenian organization dedicated to sports and scouting, founded in Constantinople in 1918 by Shavarsh Krissian, Krikor Hagopian, and Hovhannes Hintilian. Their purpose was to create an organization that would help strengthen and teach Armenian youth. That message was made clear with their motto, “Partsratseer, Partsratsoor” (“Rise and Raise”). Essentially, it meant that you should elevate yourself as well as elevate those around you. As a member of the nearly 100-year-old organization, I can attest to that motto being just a small part of what being part of Homenetmen is all about.
After its establishment, Homenetmen (the Armenian General Athletic Union and Scouts, in English) eventually expanded and spread all over the world where Armenians lived. There are currently chapters in Armenia, Lebanon, Syria, Argentina, France, England, Canada, the United States (Eastern and Western regions), as well as several other cities across the globe. The international presence of Homenetmen is a testament not only to the strength of the Armenian people, but also to the principles of the organization’s founders. Their goal was to spread the richness of our culture, to educate the youth, and at the same time, prepare them for their future lives. And this goal is still being achieved every day, through the organization’s global network and its official publication Marzig, which serves as the monthly source of current events involving and relating to the worldwide organization.
I am a proud member of the Homenetmen Boston chapter. Founded in 1973, the Boston chapter is one of 10 chapters in the United States Eastern Region. For most members, being a part of Homenetmen, at least in Boston, isn’t something you really chose. Rather, it is something you are born in to—a generational thing. And while many of its members are the children of Homenetmenagans (Homenetmen members), the organization has always welcomed newcomers with open arms. All Armenians are welcome to be a part of the big family.
Homenetmen has been in my life for as long as I can remember. I was around five when I attended my first scouting meeting. It speaks measures that a majority of the kids I met through Homenetmen in those first years are still my friends to this day; they are people who I consider lifelong friends, and I have Homenetmen to thank for that.
If you went around and asked the youth of the Boston Armenian community, most would say the same thing. Of this, I am certain.
Homenetmen’s main focus is on scouting and athletics. As a member, you are not obligated to participate in both; however, most do. I along with many others grew up going to weekly scouting meetings, and participating in basketball and soccer teams. Athletics and scouting are the integral pillars of Homenetmen, and both are imperative in their own way. While some may assume that athletics and scouting are very different things, they have more in common than one might think. In the case of Homenetmen, both succeed in bringing the Armenian youth closer together to create a special bond for the kids participating. They each also offer different ways of bonding with one another and enriching the youth.
Being a scout at such a young age helps develop a sense of responsibility and discipline that is vital to our development and transition into adulthood. I have been a scout for 16 years and I know firsthand the vast amount of knowledge you garner by taking part in the organization. It is a basic structure of five different groups based on age and gender. Each group has their own leader, along with a leader in charge of the entire chapter. Being a scout greatly impacted my life and the lives of those around me. My friends and I met through the weekly scouts meetings and used that as a stepping stone to forging lifelong friendships outside the organization.
As young kids, we considered our leaders as older brother figures. They were in charge and disciplined us when necessary, but they also taught us much about life and gave us endless amounts of advice. They helped us grow and influenced us in a positive way. It is a testament to those who taught them, as they took the knowledge that they learned and passed it down to us.
Besides acquiring knowledge and learning about our people’s culture, the relationships you make are an important part of a Homenetmenagan’s life. Not only did I form lifelong relationships with other scouts from the Greater Boston area, but also with members from other chapters. Once a year the Homenetmen Eastern Region holds a regional camping trip, during which scouts from the 10 chapters come together for a 5-day camp. During these camps, I have met and befriended many Armenians from other states, and I have Homenetmen to thank for that.
The bonds one makes through the organization also transcend borders. Every four years, Homenetmen hosts an international Jamboree in Armenia. The Jamboree is a 10-day camp, during which Homenetmen scouts from around the world get selected to participate. You get to take part in group activities on the campsite and visit the landmarks you grew up learning about. It is both a privilege and an honor to be selected, and I myself have been fortunate enough to have attended twice. I can say, without a doubt, that those trips were one of the most memorable times of my life. I met Armenians from all over the world and it was truly an eye-opening experience to see the different aspects of the diaspora interact with one another. I have Homenetmen to thank for that.
While my friends and I grew up learning from our leaders, today I have the privilege of mentoring a fresh group of younger kids. A new generation of Homenetmen scouts look at me as their older brother and I feel like my life in the organization has come full circle. The founders wanted the youth to learn, so they would eventually grow and teach the members of the next generation. And now, I can proudly say I am doing my best to help make that dream a reality, the same way so many others have done over the years.
Though I cannot speak for other chapters around the world, but from my own experience, I know that in the Eastern Region, the athletic component of Homenetmen is very important. Whether a weekly basketball practice, or competing in a youth soccer league, my friends and I found ourselves thrust into the athletic world at a very young age.
The weekly practices that take place throughout the year culminate at the annual Homenetmen Navarsartian Games, which take place annually over the July 4th holiday weekend. The games have been taking place for 26 years. This year, the annual games were hosted by the Chicago chapter.
The weekend is usually filled with competition from all 10 chapters as they compete in basketball, soccer, volleyball, and track and field, among other sports. At the end of the weekend, the points for each chapter from all the competitions are tallied, a winning chapter is announced, and trophies, medals, and bragging rights are earned for a full year. The games are an example of a friendly competition that brings together Armenian youth from all over the region.
Much like the scouting Jamboree, Homenetmen hosts a World Games every four years as well. Athletes from chapters all around the world come together and represent their region against one another in friendly competition. Just like with scouts, the regional and the world games help you meet and make lifelong friends from all around the world.
Being thrust into athletics at such a young age helped us grow and learn the values of being part of a team and working with others. The athletic aspect of Homenetmen helps develop physical and mental strength. It teaches great core values to the youth and will continue to do so.
Homenetmen has been an integral part of the worldwide Armenian community for nearly a century now. The hundreds of chapters spread across the globe is a testament to the vision of the original founders. The three of them would be proud of what has been accomplished. Today, we must thank them for taking a simple idea and turning it into a global phenomenon. It is a testament to the Armenian people and the power of unity.
We, as the next generation, need to make sure that we maintain that level of importance. We need to ensure that the organization not only survives, but also keeps up with the times. It is our duty to continue to help emphasize that importance to the next generation much like our parents’ generation did.
It is in our hands and no one else’s.
While I run the risk of sounding “preachy,” through my experience in the organization, I urge the Armenian youth around the world to join this international movement. If you are not in Homenetmen, join. If you have kids that are not in Homenetmen, have them join. It is a decision that you surely will never regret.
I can proudly say that I would not be the person I am today if it was not for this unique organization, and I am certain those who served in the organization before me would agree.
Now wouldn’t it be something if the youth of our future could say the same thing years from now? It is in our hands to make sure they do.